3 simple daily writing exercises that can transform your 2021
A few words a day can act as strength-builders for life
Last year was undeniably the world’s longest horror show. After all, there was a pandemic at play, threatening lives, wrecking families, tumbling economies.
Almost everyone I know of has been through some sort of psychological and emotional tumult for a great part of 2020. My own mental health has had a rocky time, with anxiety and OCD at their peak. Therapy isn’t a road many of us can take, mainly due to the expense it entails.
Thankfully, it was writing that helped me survive this stormy phase. I’m glad I heeded a few friends’ advice at the start of the year itself and developed a habit of daily journaling.
Following the “Morning Pages” template pioneered by writer Julia Cameron in her celebrated creativity manual The Artist’s Way, I religiously write 3 pages of stream-of-consciousness longhand entries in my notebook within 45 minutes of waking up. I never expected it to become a routine, especially given my mental and even physical health issues, but here I am, with 365 entries done! I’m amazed that something like this even happened in the first place.
My journaling habit helped me prepare for the shitstorm that hit our shores in March and cope with the turbulence it caused over the months.
I would also credit my journaling routine in helping me “unblock” my creativity during this tough phase and resume screenwriting, which I had put on the back burner to focus on other kinds of professional writing. Besides, the writing habit has provided me with the clarity of mind I needed to utilise my home confinement for constructive yet brutally procrastinated tasks such as decluttering, goal setting, and regular cooking.
While there are plenty of such writing exercises to choose from, I’m sharing 3 simple ones that have worked for me and which you can easily weave into your schedule. They cost nothing, except for a tiny bit of your time and effort. But once they become a habit, they’re sure to benefit you—just like how they have for me. Combine them with your therapy, if you’re undergoing any, and they become even more effective. Here they are for your #2021Goals:
1. Journaling (even if it’s just one word or sentence a day)
Whether done in the morning, night, or any other time of the day, this one’s a highly rewarding experience. Journaling and brain-dumping are said to help clear the funk in your head so there’s enough headspace for tasks such as finding answers to puzzling questions, gaining insights, and boosting focus and productivity.
While my morning-journaling exercise is a strictly pen-and-notebook affair, I have also created a file on Google Docs for any-time thought-dumping, esp. for the pesky, anxiety-inducing ones. If you prefer to use journaling to take stock of your day, a bedtime round can be a better bet for you.
What do I journal about? The previous day’s highlights (esp. the one best thing that happened in the past 24 hours), plans and predictions for the day ahead, and any fears and worries experienced at the time. I haven’t really gone through my journal entries from the past year, but it’s advisable to avoid reading your brain dumps, at least for the first few months, lest your inner critic should spring to life.
If 3 pages seem too much, aim for just 1 page. If 1 page is a lot, a paragraph will suffice. And if a paragraph, too, seems like a steep climb, just keep a line or a single word as your target.
Don’t know how to begin your entry? Simply describe how you’re feeling in the moment—happy, excited, gloomy, shitty, anxious, lazy, etc.—then go on that high-intensity rant if you want. You may even direct this rant at a specific person in letter form, though you obviously shouldn’t send that missive to them in any way! And yes, don’t let anyone read your journals. All those words are “for your eyes only”.
Whatever your capacity or convenience, the important thing is to get those thoughts out onto the page so they don’t sc**w you from within. Forget about grammar or typos. Forget about fluency of language. Write in whatever language you’re comfortable with. (I insert a lot of Hindi—even a smattering of whatever little Marathi, Punjabi, etc. I know—at times.) Don’t look back at what you’ve written, don’t edit—just keep proceeding, get your daily goal done. Who knows, you might even pour out your next bestseller or blockbuster in the process!
2. Lists & logs
Don’t think lengthy writing works for you? Try lists.
We all make lists on an everyday basis anyway. To-do lists. Goals lists. Shopping lists, wish-lists, bucket lists. Some of us maintain daily logs to measure our productivity—even keep track of the books we read, the films we watch, the foods we eat. We do our financial accounts and budgets as well.
Then, there are the daily achievement lists, gratitude lists, affirmations lists, a bulleted outline of personal strengths and weaknesses, a spelling out of criteria for the next job or gig. (Speaking of gigs, here’s my round-up of 70+ writing formats you can use, which includes—you guessed it right—lists. And here’s another one for the questions you should be asking your clients.)
Hell, we also have hit lists!
Lists really help acquire clarity—perhaps even more, when they’re created and updated on a regular basis. If you need some more prompts, here’s a list of some more lists (!) you can create.
Indeed, there are no limits when it comes to making lists. You can get insanely creative and colourful here. For more ideas, maybe some extreme ones, check out this Bon Appetit story on meal planning and how the writer does it using carefully cultivated lists to quash the stress of daily cooking. Just ensure you’re writing at least one list daily.
3. Bedtime question
Based on some self-help write-ups, I have recently started this practice, though I haven’t used the pen-and-paper approach for it yet. But this is how it works in general: I ask myself a question—mostly concerning a problem I’m facing—before going to sleep and wait for the answer to automatically occur to me.
So far, I’ve received answers for whatever questions I’ve directed to myself. The answer could present itself in a dream or pop up as a sudden realisation, a flash, or a journal entry. I really don’t know how it works; I guess the process is probably about the subconscious mind “chewing” on the matter while we’re asleep.
Of course, I don’t expect the answer to always come to me, but at least I feel assured that I’m doing something about my problems and deploying my latent mental and intellectual resources for the task. And the practice costs nothing—neither time nor money. It’s simply about remembering to do it.
You can make a ritual out of this practice. Write down your question on a piece of paper and then place it under your pillow. If you don’t get your answer, continue to “sleep on it” the next night as well—or until the answer occurs to you.
Some people write out multiple problems on a page and lock the paper in a cupboard, only to take it out a few months later. If the problems are solved, they destroy the paper and throw away the pieces. If not, they lock that paper again in the cupboard and keep it in there until each and every problem has disappeared from their lives. Sometimes, the problems stay unsolved even after ages, but merely reading about them after all those months and years can make one go with ROFL with amusement!
Give these daily writing exercises a try and describe your experiences in the comments. Hope the year 2021 turns out to be a victorious one for you and your family. Happy writing!